The summer of 2022 broke records in Western Washington with the most days above 90 degrees and the driest summer on record with just ½ inch of rain in Seattle between June 21st and September 21st. When school resumed in the fall, recess was often held indoors, and after-school activities were canceled because the air quality had reached dangerous levels due to the fires that burned on the western side of the Cascades. While Western Washington was blanketed in smoke and ash, we couldn’t stop looking at the strange orange sky and hearing murmurs of “the new normal.”
The area often dubbed as “the wet side of Washington” saw the Bolt Creek and the Sunset Fires, among several others that burned on the western side of the Cascade Range in the fall of 2022. The Bolt Creek fire burned for well over a month along Highway 2 in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, dancing on either side of the Snohomish and King County line, charring nearly 23 square miles of forest, evacuating residents between the towns of Index and Skykomish, and blanketing the Puget Sound region in thick smoke. Meanwhile, on the western side of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, an unattended campfire ignited the Sunset Fire in the same region where the largest fire in Washington state, the historic 1902 Yacolt Blaze, once burned.
Melinda Hurst Frye observed the remnants of these wildfires and considered how a warming climate may bring more fire to western Washington. Using a flatbed scanner as a camera, she captured images of the blackened remains of the forest, illustrating the environmental changes and the potential for regeneration along the fire boundaries where the landscape is both impacted by fire and untouched just feet away. The burnt skeletons of sword ferns and charred Douglas-fir cones are unsettling, however, the signs of forest regeneration months later emphasize the natural world’s resilience. Sprouting seedlings, slime mold adorning the surfaces of the blackened tree trunks, and fungi exhaling their spores into the spring air reveal the adaptability of organisms faced with a warmer and more variable climate.
- Melinda Hurst Frye & David Peterson, PhD. for SURGE 2023, Museum of Northwest Art